Natural or synthetic secretin does not reduce symptoms of autism, study shows

Secretin, touted as a possible cure for autism just three years ago, is not a magic bullet that relieves the symptoms of the developmental disorder, report researchers at the University of Washington and the University of Colorado Health Sciences Center. Their study, which involved the largest and most-comprehensive trials of the hormone yet conducted, is published in the November issue of Journal of the American Academy of Child Adolescent Psychiatry.

"The message to parents is that there is no evidence that secretin is effective and should be given to children with autism," said Geraldine Dawson, director of the UW's Autism Center, who co-led the study. "We have yet to find a medicine that cures autism, and the results really underscore why research for the cause of autism is necessary."

The study is believed to be the first to measure the effectiveness of both natural porcine secretin and a synthetic form of the hormone and a placebo. Secretin is a naturally occurring human hormone produced in the small intestine that helps control digestion and is used in diagnosing gastrointestinal problems.

Autism is a disorder that interferes with a child's ability to communicate and relate socially with other people. Afflicted individuals also can have a restricted range of activities and interests, and about 75 percent of children with autism also have some form of mental retardation. The disorder is far more common than previously thought, affecting more than half a million Americans. The researchers found that neither form of secretin reduced the symptoms of autism beyond the effects noted for the placebo.

"With autism we know there is a very large placebo effect, so you have to show a bigger effect to say a treatment worked," said Dawson. "We don't fully understand the mystery of the placebo effect in medicine. But the expectancy that a treatment will work can have a real positive impact. It is not an imagined effect, but real change

Contact: Joel Schwarz
University of Washington

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